Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tolkien by Humphrey Carpenter



Why I read it: Huge fan of his work.

Summary: The full, authorized biography of the author of The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion, among many other notable works.

My Thoughts: I dabble in languages. Tolkien created them.

The inspiration hit him when he was young, and therein lies the question of nature and nurture. What was it about his young mind that drove him toward philology? Was he trained to think that way, or was his mond so wired from the start to love languages? He went beyond toying with the romance and germanic languages to delving into the ancient European tongues, forming, for example, his own club that met solely to read Icelandic sagas in their original written form.

It all started from the most difficult of beginnings. He lost both his mother and father when he was young and lived in foster homes until he came of age. Even with such challenges he shone brightly as a scholar, studying at Oxford, where he would eventually teach.

Carpenter is mindful that what Tolkien devotees really want to know is where all the components came from. What was the inpiration for Gandalf? How did hobbits emerge as a fictitious race, and who are they supposed to reflect? Who are the elves and what are they supposed to represent? Are there any ties to contemporary events mirrored in the story of The Lord of the Rings?

There's no doubt Tolkien was a genius. And with genius often comes temperamentality. A goodly portion of his life was spent wrestling with publishers, finalizing and then rewriting chapters and short stories in exacting tones and answering fan mail about obscure inaccuracies and redundancies in his mythology. But once his major works took off as international bestsellers, life changed for good. Money poured in. Privacy deserted him. He had to move.

Thouands of fantasy and science fiction writers have followed Tolkien, but his works remain the standard up to which they all gaze reverentially. Major motion pictures, a massive multi-player online game and more continue to thrill new audiences every year, all grown from a single line written on a blank page of a student's test about a "hobbit" in the 1930s.

Writers, know this: Tolkien's lesson is to keep writing, and to follow the strange tales to which your mind takes you. As he wrote, characters emerged from odd places, with no preordained goals. Let it flow through your pen and let the story take you places within you that you never knew existed.

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